John looked into heaven, and saw a great multitude from every nation, robed in white, crying praise to our God and to the Lamb.
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There are times when the church calendar and current events come together more than you could ever have guessed.
We didn’t need for it to be All Saints’ Day to come close to the great mystery of death and what lies beyond death this week.
This past Thursday an incredible, overflow crowd of hundreds upon hundreds gathered at Congregation Shomrei Torah to pray and remember and grieve the loss of eleven precious souls who died in Pittsburgh last week for their faith in the God of Israel—as we prayed on Thursday, “for the sake of the Name of God.”
The following day, Friday, an incredible, near-overflow crowd of over two hundred gathered right here to pray and remember and grieve the loss of our dear sister Carla, who died so suddenly last month.
And today we come to church to find this great prayer wheel to memorialize our beloved ones who have gone before us, and our ofrenda, our prayer altar full of icons and pictures, and these figures surrounding us of Mary and Francis and Martin and Teresa, all of which testify to our faith in a God who mourns with us—a God whose plan is not that death should have the final word in our lives—a God who is, and will be, victorious over death itself.
That idea that God will raise us up from death was already well known in Judaism by the time of Jesus. It’s a hope that is held by faithful Jewish people today, and that we hold together with our Jewish friends, both for those who died last week and for all who love and are loved by God. And for us as Christians God’s victory over death is known most fully in Jesus, the human being who is Life itself.
Today we heard about Jesus’ greatest sign, the raising of his friend Lazarus from the grave. At a simple word from Jesus, death loosens its grip on Lazarus, and he stumbles out of the dark tomb into the brilliant light of day, still hampered by his burial shroud. Jesus might as well be talking to the power of death itself as he commands: “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Now as this story takes place in John’s gospel, shortly before Jesus rides into Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus will very soon be wearing a burial shroud of his own. The gospel stories tell us that, just like Lazarus, Jesus was wrapped in a shroud and laid in a tomb with a stone rolled across the door. And then they tell us that on the first Easter Sunday, the disciples found that shroud lying by itself, rolled up in the tomb. Somehow, sometime in the mystery of that holy night, Jesus took off his own burial shroud, and put on immortality.
Now you and I aren’t Jesus. But we have this blessed hope in God, that God can clothe us in immortality too. And for us as Christians we believe the way that happens is for God actually to clothe us in Jesus. The way that happens is through baptism. When we’re baptized God joins us to Jesus in his own body, so that his own immortal life flows through us. That’s why for many centuries the tradition of the church has been to clothe those newly baptized with white robes as a sign that these new members of Christ’s body have put on Christ like a garment and are now clothed with his own life forever. Each person who’s baptized takes their place among that great company of saints clothed in white robes that John saw in the vision recorded in Revelation, the blessed company of Martin and Teresa, Mary and Francis, of Carla, and of all faithful people past, present, and still to come.
Today Addison Chandler joins the company of saints. Addison, we are so proud and excited to celebrate with you today. And each of us today will have the chance to join in the renewal of our baptismal covenant and to be sprinkled anew with the waters of baptism. If you’ve been baptized, remember that you are clothed with Christ: you wear that robe of immortality on your body. Sometimes if you serve as a leader in the liturgy you might wear a visible white robe, the robe we wear when we serve at the altar. But whether you’re serving or not, you’re invisibly robed in Christ’s glorious life every single day. Let yourself feel the Holy Spirit stir up that gift in you afresh today. If you haven’t been baptized, know how deeply God loves and cherishes you, and perhaps let the Spirit work on you to wonder whether you too might be called to these waters.
Today all the saints in heaven and on earth are here praying with us. Their presence fills this room. Together with them, let us praise the God who holds us in life forever and will never let us go.